Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas favors finesse over formula in hiring staff for 'turnaround' schools

ST. PETERSBURG — Despite the early hour, the 13 boys in Kristy Lengner's homeroom were wide awake. Unfortunately, their interest wasn't in school work.

The Gibbs Gladiators lost 31-6 to the Azalea Bulldogs over the weekend, and Lengner, a second-year teacher at Azalea Middle, knew her students wouldn't focus until they spilled all the details. "I want to hear what happened on the field," she said, as the students threw out a jumble of on- and off-the-field dramatics about the Suncoast Youth Football Conference game.

What seems like an interruption is exactly what homeroom is designed for this year, said principal Connie Kolosey. For 16 minutes every morning, students split into gender-segregated rooms to learn study skills. They also get a chance to say what's on their minds, without disrupting their regular classes, and bond with the teacher who will oversee their FCAT exams.

It's just one of the changes at Azalea Middle this year as the F-rated school tries to improve. The school also has a new discipline plan for students and two new programs, JROTC and an "engineering gateway to technology" program. What it doesn't have is a lot of new teachers.

Azalea Middle and four other schools in Pinellas County — Melrose, Fairmount Park and Maximo elementaries and Pinellas Park Middle — were forced to undergo a staff restructuring this year, courtesy of the state's accountability system. Four of the schools earned Fs last school year, while Pinellas Park Middle earned a D.

Their "turnaround" plans emphasize replacing staff members, including principals, as part of an effort to change school culture and ultimately improve test scores. But Pinellas hasn't exactly followed the state's formula.

The state requires that principals be replaced — superintendent Mike Grego moved three of the original five, but kept Kolosey at Azalea Middle and Randi Latzke at Maximo. All but one of the principals rehired more than half of the original staff.

Azalea Middle had the highest percentage of returning teachers, with 72 percent rehired for the 2013-14 school year, according to the district. Maximo was second, with 66 percent of teachers returning. Pinellas Park Middle brought back 63 percent; Fairmount Park rehired 59 percent. Melrose was the only school to hire almost all new teachers. The district's numbers included some other instructional staff members, such as academic coaches.

There is no magic formula for turning around a low-performing school, and staff changes must be done with care, said Grego, who went over each school's roster. "It's not a numbers game."

He said it wasn't about finding new people, but the right people. He wanted good principals and teachers who would stay.

"I looked at these schools in particular over the last five years and it's astonishing, the revolving door of teachers and leaders," he said. "That has to stop."

Schools like these five — with a high percentage of low-income students — often have a difficult time hiring teachers; turnover is a constant problem. To combat that, the district offered teachers a $3,000 recruitment bonus. Principals, who received a $5,000 bonus, also were given advantages over other schools. They were able to hire earlier in the year, and their schools didn't have to take teachers who had been involuntarily moved from another school.

At Fairmount Park Elementary, principal Nina Pollauf said in an email that the "priority hiring" gave her more time to search for the best candidates. She ultimately hired 25 new teachers and rehired 36 veterans of Fairmount Park. Grego said one literacy coach at Fairmount Park commutes from Palm Harbor every day.

"I rehired those teachers that showed a commitment to our students and the school and met the necessary criteria," she wrote.

At Azalea Middle, Kolosey rehired many teachers who started their careers at the school last year. She also snagged a few veteran teachers who had been displaced because of the closing of a special education center. She tried not to hire brand-new teachers.

"This is a tough place to cut your teeth," she said.

Tonceola Askew, who has been at Azalea Middle since 2000, said she commutes from Tampa to work there. Leslie Simmons, who has been there nine years, said "you can't pay me to leave."

Lengner said she stayed because she loves her principal and the students. Even in the second week of school, she said she's learned how to keep her students' interest. She's going to a football game.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Pinellas favors finesse over formula in hiring staff for 'turnaround' schools 08/30/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 11:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Woman dead in St. Petersburg shooting

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — A woman died in a shooting Saturday night, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department.

  2. For starters: Rays at Orioles, with a different look to things

    Blogs

    The Rays wrap up their four-game series with the Orioles today and their lineup has a different look, with C Wilson Ramos, OF Steven Souza Jr. and 3B Evan Longoria all gettig the day off.

    The Rays are starting their All-Star, RHP Chris Archer, who needs wins in his final two outings to even his record, going …

  3. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack

    News

    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  4. Encounters: Trial by storm for a rookie principal

    K12

    DUNEDIN — When he nodded off to sleep, the hallway lights outside Michael Vasallo's office were on, so the sudden darkness woke him.

    The glow of his desk phone dimmed.

    Michael Vasallo, right, the first-year principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School, talks with the school's head plant operator Clint Case near the back-up generator on campus. The generator failed just as Hurricane Irma passed through Pinellas County, making for a stressful night. The experience made Vasallo long to return to his regular job, educating middle schoolers. [COLEEN WRIGHT   |   Times]


  5. Who is in charge during a hurricane? Hillsborough County and Tampa still can't agree

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he has evacuation authority.